Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Great Wall Review

If I'm being honest, nothing about this movie seemed even remotely interesting. Matt Damon playing a European character leading a Chinese army to battle against a bunch of lizard monsters in the early days of the Great Wall of China? Say what? OK, that's not a completely accurate description, but that's what it looked like. Trailers convinced me that it was going to be a complete piece of trash that would end up as this year's "God's of Egypt," a movie I never actually reviewed on this blog because I never cared to see it in theaters, but I caught it before I did my end of year lists and it was laughably bad. So much so that I think it can be enjoyed if your purpose is to sit down with a bunch of friends and make fun of it "Mystery Science Theater 3000" style, which is why I didn't have it quite as high on my worst movies of 2016 list as others did, but it still deservedly made it. Going into "The Great Wall," those were my expectations. I was hoping to get a few good laughs out of it, but that was it. Turns out I didn't end up hating it as much as I thought it would. The movie was definitely a mixed bag, for sure. But when you are expecting complete trash, mixed bag can be a welcome surprise.

First let's get some controversy out of the way. Like so many movies these days, "The Great Wall" enters theaters with a fair share of controversy. Because that's what we do in 2017. We are actively searching for ways to be offended and we grasp onto every little thing that looks like controversy. While "Gods of Egypt" was a movie that deserved it's controversy since the movie made no effort whatsoever to cast even one non-American in an Egyptian movie that had nothing to do with America, "The Great Wall" falls into the category with "Split" and "A Dog's Purpose." Recent movies that didn't deserve their controversy, thus being the third movie in a month to make Americans look really stupid for throwing a fit at nothing. If you want to dive into the controversies of "Split" and "A Dog's Purpose," you can search out those movies in the archives on the right. As far as "The Great Wall" goes, it's not white-washed because 95 percent of the cast is Chinese. Matt Damon plays a European character who travels to China looking to do some trade and gets caught up in this situation. And it's not a white savior because Matt Damon doesn't save the day. In fact, he spends most of the movie either in prison or working alongside a competent Chinese army. So stop your complaining.

Onto the movie. Quite simply, this movie can be divided into three sections. Each section of the movie I had a completely different reaction to. Section one is when Matt Damon and company are travelling to China and suddenly get attacked by this giant lizard monster. I refer to them as lizard monsters because they are a fictional creature that this movie made up that don't really completely resemble one specific creature, modern or ancient. The movie gave them some sort of Chinese name, but I like my designation of lizard monster. They have eyes on the side of their heads, they are super fast and strong, they normally travel in giant packs of like a thousand each, they are led by one giant Queen lizard monster and for some reason they are angry at the Chinese people and this may or may not have been the Chinese people's motivation for building the wall. They wanted to keep these monsters out and after building the wall, they trained for years and years as to how to defeat them. Well, when Matt Damon's company gets attacked by one and kill it, that apparently expedited these lizard monsters' attack. They were coming anyways, but this caused them to come a bit earlier than the Chinese people were expecting, so right off the bat we experience this giant battle between the Chinese and the lizard monsters.

This is the part of the movie that shocked the heck out of me. You see, a ridiculous premise isn't inherently bad. If you know you have a ridiculous premise and you own it and go all in, then that can be super entertaining. It's for that reason that I enjoyed "xXx: Return of Xander Cage" last month and it's for that reason that I really love "Sharknado." I haven't seen all the sequels that they do every year, but that movie is hilariously awesome. The people who made it had that exact intention. They purposely made a really bad movie and they completely ran with it. It's when a movie like "Gods of Egypt" is trying to be super awesome and serious, but ends up being a complete joke that we get into the realm of unintentionally bad as opposed to intentionally bad. The people who made "The Great Wall" knew that they had something completely ridiculous on their hands and they ran with it. And they totally went the "Pacific Rim" route of throwing you into the action from the first scene instead of spending a bunch of time setting things up, which if you are making an intentionally bad movie, that's probably the way to go. "Pacific Rim" just might be the best bad movie ever because they had giant monsters fighting giant robots for pretty much the entire movie without wasting any time.

Thus I found myself being extremely entertained. It helped that I saw it in 3D IMAX for $5 at my local Megaplex here in Utah that does $5 Tuesdays. I wouldn't recommend paying the full price of a 3D IMAX ticket, but if you have a theater near you that has a similar deal, the visual effects in this movie are stunning, the cinematography is excellent, and the sound design and score are fantastic. This makes for the perfect IMAX experience. And the 3D is used super effectively. There were scenes where arrows or spears were flying past the camera that felt like they almost hit me and there were scenes that gave me a bit of vertigo when we were standing on top of the wall looking down. The 3D helped you get a good scope of how giant this wall is that a 2D showing wouldn't quite do justice. Add that to an epic Helm's Deep style of battle where a giant army of these lizard monsters were attacking the Chinese people at the wall with a high level of ferocity that made it terrifying at times. But yet the Chinese people had this elaborate plan of attack that was perfect. During this scene, Matt Damon and his partner were completely tied up, but watched in awe and terror at this army of lizard monsters attacking with the Chinese people defending. I shared those same emotions as him.

After going through this epic first act of the movie, I was excited about this. I was totally ready to give one of my "the critics are wrong" sort of reviews like I did with "xXx: Return of Xander Cage." Unfortunately, though, after that first act, this movie completely slams on the breaks. The lizard monster army has retreated and now it's time to prepare for their final attack while trying to establish some human drama and character progression in order to give that final battle more weight. I appreciate the idea of this, but I was not invested in any of it. If you've read or watched any reviews of this movie, everyone is saying this same thing and I honestly do my best to make these reviews personal without trying to repeat what everyone else is saying, but in this case there is no other way to put it. I loved the character of Commander Lin, played by Tian Jing. Matt Damon's character was also fine, but no one else in this movie meant anything to me and after our initial first battle, I think we went about 45 minutes to an hour of doing absolutely nothing. In fact, I think I may have dozed off and fell asleep a few times. I try not to do that in the theater because I have reviews to write, but sometimes you just can't help it when a movie gets so freaking boring. After being unexpectedly entertained with that first act, I was then immediately unexpectedly put to sleep.

Sadly the movie never recovers. After a second act that put me to sleep, I immediately woke up for the third act once stuff started to happen and I was ready to be equally as entertained as I was in the fist act. In this instance I won't dive into very much detail, but I really wasn't that entertained with the finale. It had it's moments, but the way they decided to wrap things up in the final battle felt poorly planned out as if they had this really fun idea that they had no idea how to properly end, so they just winged it and threw something super cliche and predictable together. Thus I came out of the movie surprised that I didn't hate it as much as I thought I would, but overall disappointed because that first act made me so excited and happy that I felt shortchanged when they dropped the ball in act two and couldn't quite recover in act three. Thus as far as a recommendation goes, if you can find this in a local IMAX screen for pretty cheap and you have nothing else to see, it's worth a few dollars. If you can't, don't pay for a full ticket price. Wait for it to come to Netflix or Redbox so you can watch the extremely entertaining first act then fast forward to the mildly entertaining finale. You'd probably spend just the right amount of time with this. My overall grade for "The Great Wall" is a 6/10.

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